Expect new wet weather standing start rule to mean more laps behind the Safety Car

2017 F1 season

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Last year’s United States Grand Prix began on a wet track with the traditional standing start. That’s something you would be forgiven for thinking was no longer possible.

Twice already this year we’ve seen wet races start behind the Safety Car. Now, following complaints that the Monaco and British Grands Prix did not feature classic standing starts, new rules have been drawn up for 2017 to address the problem.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Silverstone, 2016
Visibility is the danger in wet weather starts
From next year the race director will get a ‘second chance’ to use a standing start when the track is wet. The 2017 rules allow the field to leave the grid behind the Safety Car and complete any number of laps behind it before taking their places on the grid for a standing start.

On the face of it this seems a smart change in the rules. But its full implications are yet to be tested.

In this new scenario where drivers will be lapping behind the Safety Car in anticipation of a standing start, they will be keen to ensure their starting position is as dry as possible. So expect to see them taking different lines when they come past the start/finish area to dry out their grid position – and perhaps even avoiding their rivals’ starting places. The damp patch on the grid at the previous race at Suzuka gave an example of how significant this can be.

How many laps will drivers have to spend behind the Safety Car until the grid area becomes dry enough for a standing start? Visibility is danger concern here, as in a standing start on a wet track drivers at the back of the field may be unable to see a driver who has failed to get away, or crashed like Nico Hulkenberg did in Singapore.

How long this process may take will inevitably depend to a large extent on the weather conditions, how much water there is on the track and quickly it drains. Note that Spa’s grid features special channels to encourage water to dissipate.

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A single-file rolling start is considered safer than a standing start because the cars are spread out more and there is less opportunity for a car to get away slowly, or not at all. It therefore follows that the race director would want to see safer (i.e. drier) conditions for a standing start instead of a rolling start. That suggests we can expect to see the Safety Car remain out for longer before a start is given.

On the previous occasions when a rolling start has been used it has taken up to 18 laps to get the race underway, but often much less than that:

The five and seven-lap delays we have seen this year have been fairly typical of what has gone before. We could see these delays increase by a few laps from next year.

Safety Car, Hungaroring, 2016
More work for Bernd Maylander next year
But what is most striking is how few races have had rolling starts in wet conditions: just 11 in the past 20 seasons. Therefore there is only a small opportunity for this new rule to decrease the number of rolling starts we see in F1.

There is also the possibility that this new rule may create the temptation for the race director to send the drivers out for a few laps behind the Safety Car in conditions when it wouldn’t previously have been used.

Recent examples of standing starts in wet conditions include last year’s United States Grand Prix, the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix and the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix. Could races in similar conditions to these now also include a few pre-start laps behind the Safety Car to check the conditions?

Finally, the new rules continue to allow for races to be started behind the Safety Car if the race director chooses to. This could happen due to very wet conditions of the kind seen at Fuji in 2007 and South Korea in 2010.

It’s therefore clear the new rules aren’t going to get rid of rolling starts completely, and we are likely to see more racing laps spent the Safety Car as a result of them.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 23 comments on “Expect new wet weather standing start rule to mean more laps behind the Safety Car”

    1. So in other words people, be careful what you ask for, as it may happen and you may end up with unintended consequences.

    2. In my view, when the track is wet before the race starts there are two possible conditions: either it is safe enough to race or it is not. The safety car driver and/or observer on-board should have sufficient (and recent) enough experience to gauge this on the inspection lap(s). If the OK is given I have no issue with there not being a standing start, but the safety car should then come in at the end of the first lap, second lap at the most. This gives the drivers a lap or two to get a feeling for the state of the track, but doesn’t result in the frequent scenario of them having to pit very soon after the green flag is given for intermediate or even slick tyres. If the track is not safe enough to race on, then they should bother running around for several laps behind the safety car achieving nothing.

      1. @supernicebob They run as many laps as they do behind the SC because 22 F1 cars driving around the circuit on full wets even at slower speeds helps clear away a lot of the standing water which allows them to start the race sooner than if they just waited.

        F1 full wet tyres clear away staggering amounts of water even at slow SC speeds & the downforce that the cars generate from the floor/diffuser/wings also helps suck up a lot of the standing water & these things help dry the track or at least clear away enough of the standing water to allow them to start.

        1. Ah, fair point. Perhaps a little harsh to say they are achieving nothing behind the safety car!

        2. There have to be cheaper ways to clear water than using 22 F1 cars.

          1. @scalextric Cheaper ways yes, More effective/faster ways no.

            The full wets tyres disperse far more water far faster than any of the other potential solutions (Jet Dryers or other tyres of vehicles for instance) & the amount of water that an F1 car sucks up & throws into the air via the floor/wings is just as much.

            1. @gt-racer Maybe at full speed. But if that’s the case at Bernd Meylander speed, let’s mount them on cheaper vehicles. Then the F1 power trains and fuel won’t get wasted.

    3. For me i don’t mind a rolling start but i do like the idea of standing starts (even more scope for drivers to lose and gain).

      The problem for me is that the FIA insist that if the race is to start behind a SC that a full wet must be used (Thats not a problem as we saw in 2007? when Kimi started the race behind the SC in Japan and barely could stay on the track on inters) where this becomes an issue is that at the moment we are seeing the SC being out for so long that the moment it comes in the drivers all change to inters.

      So the question is why not just get rid of the wets all together and just use inters or please can some common sense prevail and say that if its wet some spay is to be expected.

      Normally no more than 5 laps is needed to get it to a point where the majority of the rivers and standing water is removed. I’m not advocating the older style of races when all races come hell or high water would be a standing start but this obsession with saying there’s too much spray is ridiculous, its raining! of course there will be spray!

      1. They insist they start on the full wets because the full wets clear away a lot more water than the inter’s so running them on full wets helps clear away the standing water much quicker.

        Back in early 2003 there was a situation where teams were only taking intermediates to races & when we got to Brazil it was quickly realized that the inter’s weren’t good enough for the conditions. This not only let to a long delay before the race started but it also helped create a lot of the problems seen that day with cars aquaplaning at turn 3 & the accidents that led to the race ending early. After that race it was mandated that both inter’s & full wets be taken to every race & be used under a SC start to help clear away the water.

        1. Michael Brown (@)
          21st October 2016, 14:44

          Because at this point all the wets are good for is clearing the track of water, not actual racing.

    4. My issue has always been this: If it is deemed too wet to start the race from a standing start, don’t start the race at all.

      Watching F1 cars trundle round behind Bernd Maylander is incredibly frustrating. They might as well postpone the start of the race for a bit and then get it going when the track is drier. If after a delay it is still deemed too wet for a standing start, either cancel the race if there is no realistic hope of the conditions improving or have them set off behind the safety car and bring him in after a sighter lap or two.

      1. The thing is, they are trying to fit the race into the TV broadcast window so they don’t want to delay the start. Also, that’s why they want to start counting the laps down immediately, so they will be running long periods behind Safety Car before attempting a standing start.

        The rule is silly – the race is either running or it’s not running. If the race is running, you can’t have a standing start in the middle of it (an exception here would be a red flag, which would mean the race is suspended / not running during this period, so a standing start to get it going again would be in order). If we decide to arbitrarily have standing starts in the middle of the running race, we might as well have them every lap.

        It would certainly add to the spectacle.

        But it won’t be racing anymore.

      2. @geemac The rolling starts are used to help dry the track as 22 F1 cars running around on full wets even at SC speeds help clear away the standing water & dry the track.

        If they just waited around for the track to dry then the races would be delayed hours & probably come up against the lime limits meaning races potentially wouldn’t happen at all.

        Watching them cruise around behind the SC may be frustrating, But it does serve a purpose.

        1. @gt-racer Fully aware of that, but they also serve that purpose if they are circulating without the safety car as a chaperone.

          Also, the 4 hour time limit wouldn’t apply because the race wouldn’t have started. As far as I am aware the clock doesn’t start ticking the second the allotted time for the start of the race starts, the clock starts once the race is actually under way.

          1. @geemac But if they circulate without the SC then there coming up against all the problems that the SC is put out to try & deal with (Aquaplaning on standing water & visibility issues).
            It’s easy to talk about them been the best drivers & how they should be able to deal with the wet, But if your car hits a patch of standing water & aquaplanes then the driver is nothing more than a passenger & if your racing into a wall of spray with zero visibility & unable to see that a car ahead has aquaplaned into the middle of the track (Or had to hit the brakes early) then again your nothing more than a passenger.

            With regards to time, The 4 hour limit may not apply but they still have to start the race & get it in before it gets too dark to be able to race. I also think the 4 hour window begins at the scheduled race start time regardless of if the race actually begins or not.

            1. @gt-racer I was ready to defer to you unreservedly, but I had a quick look at the Sporting Regs and the four hour limit applies to races which are started and suspended. So no start, no ticking clock.

              I obviously see the points you are making and you are making them well. However, I disagree fundamentally with them because I believe that everyone involved in the sport, including Pirelli, the teams and the circuit, should be able to ensure that, other than in the event of incredibly irregular weather the likes of which we had in Japan 2014, we are able to get 22 cars racing even if the circuit is wet.

            2. @geemac Had a feeling I was wrong about the 4 hour thing.

              Even if the teams or Pirelli were able to design cars/tyres that worked flawlessly in very wet conditions you would still have the issue of visibility which is always the main thing drivers hate about driving in the wet.

              Thats something that is incredibly hard for fans to understand because its something that you have to experience 1st hard to fully understand how bad doing 150-200mph when you can’t see much ahead of you is. At race speeds with the sort of visibility you get in very wet conditions you tend to not see the car your about to hit until you hit it.

              For example….

    5. Given that F1 has the Virtual Safety Car system I would prefer to see that used instead of the Safety Car. There would be no passing during this period and the target times would decrease as the racing line dries up. The racing line would dry up much quicker if the drivers weren’t stuck behind the Safety Car and had full wet tires on. I would still like the rules to mandate that if the situation calls for this type of start then all drivers are required to run full wet tires for two primary reasons: 1) they move more water off the racing line in less time and 2) it reduces the strategy of Driver A is in front clearing water with full wets while Driver B is behind nursing his inters waiting for the race to start.

    6. What about one of the jet engine blower trucks that I have seen used at certain races? Could this not be used to dry the track as quickly as the race cars?

      1. They work well on ovals because of the banking, You can direct them to blow the water down the banking & onto the apron. However on road/street circuits (Especially one’s with a lot of gradient) the driers tend to just blow the water around & it fairly quickly drains back to where it was.

        With 22 F1 car’s on full wets the tyres as well as how the ground-effects the cars do produce sucks the water off the track & throws it into the air which helps disperse it far more effectively & far faster than a jet drier does. And with 22 cars doing that over several laps the water tends to not to drain back into the big puddles that can cause the aquaplaning.

    7. I remember watching SCCA nationals in the remnants of a hurricane, literally, and they didn’t start under a safety car (early 1970s). How times have changed.

      1. Probably didn’t have the SC back then.

        It’s also worth considering that back when they did race in wet/very wet conditions you tended to have races where hardly anybody finished with most of the grid ending up in the wall/gravel or running into each other.

        The other thing thats changed the past 15-20 years is that the organizers now actually listen to the drivers opinions & feedback regarding conditions. You look at something like the 1989/1991 Australian Gp’s where most of the grid didn’t want the races to start yet got ignored or something like the 1998 Belgium Gp where the drivers wanted a SC start yet got ignored with the end result been races that turned into crash-fest’s or in the case of Spa 1998 over half the grid crashing due to not been able to see on the exit of turn 1.

    8. Just have some 4wd sports cars to do some fun laps and postpone the race a bit ;)

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